Sunday, 28 October 2012

Our Night Weaning Journey

When I became pregnant with Lennon, I knew I wanted to do everything in my power and ability to give her exactly what she needed to be a healthy and happy person. One of the biggest things I could do for her was breastfeeding. I had no idea it would also be one of the most difficult things I have ever done, including childbirth. But breastfeeding is more than just feeding. It is a serious relationship that requires both parties to work together so that it benefits both. Not necessarily equally, but it still must serve both people or else something is lost about the relationship. After months, a year even, of breastfeeding Lennon, I started to feel that I was not enjoying the relationship the way that I once did. I also knew that I wasn't ready to stop breastfeeding and had hoped to make it to at least 2, if not longer. And the problem was never that Lennon didn't love nursing. Because she loves it so much she wants to do it all day and all night, and for a long time particularly all night. When I couldn't take it anymore and needed so desperately to get a good nights sleep, I began my researching in to night weaning.

I was recommended the article by Dr. Jay Gordon, available here: and also to read about Jessica over at the Leaky Boob's site about her night weaning journey with her second youngest daughter, available here: Both of these helped me greatly in trying to wade through dark and treacherous waters.

We first tried at 15 months. It was not successful. Let's just paraphrase and say that she absolutely was not ready to comprehend sleeping without the assistance of nursing. Weeks of trying, weeks of both of us crying, and finally the decision to try again when she was older and we were both ready to be committed to such a huge change.

At 20 months, almost 2 years of age, we moved our existence to California and simultaneously found out we were pregnant with baby number 2. And that was the beginning of the reality that things needed to change because they truly had changed. A huge part of successful night weaning is the parents, and particularly the mama, acknowledging and resolving herself to make changes for everyone's sleep sake. Every woman has a different threshold for those long nursing nights and every child has a different requirement for their mamas warmth, touch and milk. So don't worry about the age of your child when you begin this journey, if you are ready, you will both know you are ready.

We started very gradually, laying in bed with her and helping her fall asleep cuddling instead of nursing. She protested and was not impressed by the changes we were trying to instill. Taking it slow helped convince her it really wasn't that bad. A couple of times throughout the night, especially towards the morning when I was pretty much at my wits end, we would hold out on nursing and try to put her to sleep cuddling. I found she was cognitively at the age where I could explain to her that mama needs sleep, and she needs sleep, and that it was OK to rest her head and sleep. This helped a lot and marked a large shift in her understanding of what going to sleep was all about.

We kept this slow process up for almost 2 weeks, every night trying a little bit more, having James put her to sleep without me there, or have him pull her close and put her to sleep. It was bittersweet for me because on the one hand she was moving away from her intense dependency on me and on the other hand she was developing a deeper and fuller relationship with her dad. We needed both of these to happen as the next baby was growing and getting ready to join our family outside the womb.

When we moved into our new house, we set up her own room for her. This was also tough for me because although I had grown to really dislike night nursing, I still loved sleeping beside my baby. But the thing with my baby was that she had grown into a thirty pound toddler who has an amazing ability to hold out for what she wants. Most nights she would carry on for long stretches, convinced I would give in to her cries to nurse. My presence was too much and the stress of her intensity and my first trimester symptoms were wearing me out so it was time that she moved into her own space. She was excited because as I said, she was aware of becoming a big girl and saw it as an exciting new part of her life.

We began by having James going in and putting her to sleep. It worked well for about a week. And then she stopped. The screaming and fighting kicked into full drive and I knew we had to start a different approach. So we came up with a sleep chart that me and Len worked on together as an art project that stated each step in her night time process and a large blank space for her to put stickers. It went: bath, teeth, books, nurse, lights out. We started doing this every single night. Many times I was tired, or didn't want to do one of the steps, but knew that to truly change her habits I needed to form new strong and lasting ones. And amazingly, it began to work quickly. She would go to sleep easily and after about a week of James going in when she awoke in the night and cuddling her back to sleep, she finally slept her first full night, 10 hours. It felt amazing!

Like all things children related, it didn't last long. They are constantly evolving and growing and so are we. This is the hardest part of positive change: wanting and hoping for it to never leave. She began struggling to go to sleep, wanting me to stay in her room with her and nurse her for as long as she desired, which could be up to an hour or more. Then once I left she would fuss and fuss. It was as though we had receded back by three weeks. It was tough and frustrating but again we had to change our plan and approach. I needed her to fall asleep without nursing to sleep.

We did our usual routine, except instead of nursing her all the way to sleep, I would nurse her for around ten minutes, telling her she had a couple of minutes left and then it was sleepy time and I was going to leave. It was tough at first. She hated it. Angrily screaming for me after I would leave the room which would last up to 20 minutes. But she stayed in her bed and I knew she was protesting change, not fearing separation. After keeping it up for another week, she began to ease into the new schedule and stopped fussing. Instead, when I would unlatch her awake and begin to leave, she would roll over and go to sleep, not waking again until 6 the next day.

Since being on vacation, her sleep has understandably been not as consistent as it is at home. But it is still better than before we night weaned her. She has a bad cold and I have brought her into our bed around 4 most mornings to nurse, knowing that I will have to stick to our routine diligently when we get home to get her back into sleeping all night in her bed.

Her nursing has picked up in the day, as I anticipated it would. She seems happier, learning quickly and playing hard in the day. It feels good to sleep again but it didn't happen over night and it will continue to be an up and down, give and take journey. I hope this helps any mama out there at their wits end just as I was know that this is a process and although it can be annoying to hear, it truly doesn't last forever.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Flying Away

Tomorrow me and Len will board a plane and head back to our first home, Canada. It has been a very strange, sometimes amazing, sometimes gruelling first couple of months living in a new country. And although we are just south of the border, it still feels that things are quite different. The moments pass and I'm beginning to understand that it really isn't very different after all. Just sunnier. We will spend a week in Vancouver with family and friends and then fly back to our new life here in Southern California.

Vancouver in Autumn

Moving is sort of something I prize myself on being skilled at. Mainly because I moved regularly throughout my life. And I'd like to say it has slowed as an adult but really, it seems to be keeping up a pretty good pace. The longing and loneliness of moving is the hardest part. But they don't last long. So you have to ride it out, to take the time to accept the emotions you are feeling, and watch as they dissipate into thin air. At first, you only want what you know and the excitement of this new place is overwhelming. You long for the past and for your old home, which is still very much your home in your mind. And like any homesick person, you want and will travel back to where you used to live, to the place that seems so far gone and so heartbreakingly perfect. Except, like anything you romanticize about, it of course is never as amazing as it seems. Because the truth is, the place is the same but it is you who have changed, grown into a new and evolving person. Suddenly, the past doesn't seem so awesome and instead, you are free to look at everything new and inspiring around you. You are alive and exploring and very few things are better for the soul.
Santa Monica in Autumn
At least this is what I am telling myself at the moment. That I won't love the cooler weather and seeing my mama every day and my closest friends and having my pants soaked up to my knees in the always wet Vancouver autumn. Who knows, I may desperately miss my Canadian existence but something shifted this week after I accepted the difficulty of the present and the reality that it doesn't need to define my future, and I truly looked around. I'm in one of the most gorgeous places to live. And the people are wonderfully kind and there are a lot of mamas with kids going through the same experiences as I am. It's just a matter of getting out of the past and embracing the present, all its ugly realness included.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

New Perspective

I have this really awful tendency to overwhelm myself. When James asks me time and time again to go out, I get angry as though I know I should be leaving and taking a break and doing anything that makes me feel happier, but I absolutely do not need to be told to do so. Except I do need to be told. Because rarely do I actually get out. Leave Lennon behind and forget for even just a couple of hours that my whole life revolves around a two year old. 

Today I had a little breakdown. OK, lately, I have been having many pregnant, lonely, what am I doing in California moments. Everything seems so exaggerated by the every day grind of caring for a little, developing, opinionated person. And while I love being home with Lennon, it has its downsides. The biggest being that I’m so engrossed in her for so many hours of the day that I just left myself slip by. I need to reform myself. To teach Len that she can be an independent person of me because I can be an independent person of her. 

I walked over to the adorable park behind our house and sat, uncomfortably, under this gorgeous tree. i didn’t care that the roots were jabbing my ribs or that little red ants were investigating my books, I was just feeling energized in minutes by being outside, being an alone individual without a child defining their every existence. The sun was shinning, as it does every day here, and I was just Erin. I opened this book of short stories I bought in Portland on our journey down here and read the first short short story. The book is called “Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women” by Mary Rechner and let me say, for every mama out there, this book of well crafted short stories hits the nail of motherhood on the head time and time again. The story I read this afternoon allowed me to have the shift in perspective I seemed to need most of all today. I live so firmly rooted in my own existence, my own ideas, my own sense of loss, of belonging, of caregiving, that I had forgotten that some of the turmoil I feel is directly attached to another little person, with their own unique perspective on how our lives are. 

This story is called “Four” and I hope you enjoy it and think on it as much as I have.

Jelly smears across your cheek. The couch is a good place to wipe your nose. You won’t wear anything but sweatpants. You’re a big boy. Everyone says this about you every day, every time they see you, even if it’s more than twice. He’s so big! They whisper it to your mom so you can hear it. He’s a beautiful boy, says your mom. Very smart and a joker too. Calls himself Storm.

Your brother hits you. You notice he does not like you. It seems to you he likes you less now than he used to when you were little. You tell your mom. Your mom says it isn’t true. She said it’s always been hard for your brother to have a borther and that it’s actually better now that you are big. You say you aren’t big. She asks if you’re still little and you say medium. You hit your brother when you can. After breakfast you hit him on the head with your fist until your mom sees and says stop hurting him and puts you and your brother in separate rooms. Your brother always hits you first. Your mom says there’s no hitting in your family.

You get the TV room for time out. You howl for awhile until you see your Transformer magazine. You bring it to your mom. Your mom is cleaning out the bird cage. Yuck, she says. They poop a lot. The two parent birds laid eggs. The eggs hatched. Now the babies are trying to fly. They get stuck behind the water dish and look like the only have one leg. You got to name the first two babies: Spike and Hiss. You hold up your magazine and say I want you to read me this. Your mom says no, you are in time out. Go back until you hear the timer.

(The timer is on the microwave and one time when your mom took a rest in your bottom bunk for a few minutes before it was time to pick up your borther from school she really fell asleep. You went into the kitchen, pulled a chair over to the microwave and hit the timer button. You turned it off. When your mom woke up she said I think I fell asleep. You giggled. She went into the kitchen to check the timer and yelled Oh shit! You were late. You had to drive and you were happy because your mom had to put your shoes and socks on and you got to take the car instead of walk. Also your brother was crying when you picked him up because he thought you weren’t coming.)

You need to poop. Your mom makes you wipe now, all by yourself. No help. She says its enough already. Now you have to wash your hands. Sometimes it’s hard to reach the toilet paper. It rolls away. Or you use too much. Your mom has to use a plunger or pull toilet paper out with her hand and she gets mad. Flush a few times, she says. Poop butt stinky fart is your favorite song. It’s only for home, not for preschool. Your mom says it isn’t funny. You say you and your brother think it’s funny. Your friends think it’s funny, too. Sometimes your mom laughs and sometimes she says enough and sometimes she yells quit it! Your mom has a special word called LIMIT and that means really stop.

Sneakers and socks are a big problem. Your sneakers do not light up. There are no Transformers on your sneakers. The socks hurt. They hurt. They don’t go on right. Your mom won’t help you anymore. You lie on the floor and howl about the socks. You throw them all, find a car to push, and stop howling. Your mom puts on lipstick in the bathroom. It takes a long time. You don’t like your mom in the bathroom with the door shut. You say it’s too scary, You yell for your mom but she doesn’t answer and you don’t bang on the door anymore because that is how big brother got his finger caught and your mom kicked the wall and made a hole and cried. When you mom comes out of the bathroom she says she doesn’t want to help you with your socks and shoes but now it’s late, so she helps you with your socks and makes you do the rest.

You drop big brother at his school first and then your mom leaves you at preschool. She plays a game and then says goodbye. You cry. Your mom hugs you. You tell your mom you don’t want her to leave. Your mom says look, your friends are here. Cole is playing blocks. He’s not my friend, you say. You say you don’t like school. You used to like it, says your mom. You say you never did. Your mom hugs you one more time and says see you right after lunch, remember you have a Gogurt for lunch? Oh yeah you say and stop crying for a minute. Your mom leaves.

After preschool you go to a new store with your mom. A woman helps you, but your mom does not. You got new sneakers and socks. You get to pick them out but not totally. The sneakers light up but there are no Transformers. Your mom said no Transformers because those weren’t good for your feet and no Bionicles because they were too much money. The woman shows you a mirror so you can see the light-ups. You wear them home. You race up and down the block with your mom and you always win.

When it’s time to pick up your brother from first grade the new sneaker’s hurt. The new socks hurt too. You throw your sneakers across the living room. One of them hits your mom. Your mom says she really feels like spanking you! You start crying. You say that really hurts your feelings. You put on sandals even though it’s cold out.

You play on the playground. Your big brother plays with his friends. Today they let you play and you only get pushed over two times and it doesn’t even hurt. Your mother sits in a sunny spot and hands out pretzels to kids that say please. Some days she talks to other parents. Today she sits against a wall all by herself and watches you play.

In the dark TV room (your mom puts the light on but your brother always turns it off when she closes the door) you fall asleep during “ZOOM”. To wake you up your moms gives you a lollypop. She says if you sleep now forget tonight. The lollypop is gone. You must have eaten it but you don’t remember. You are cold. Your mom gets you another shirt. Your dad is at a meeting. That means he’s not eating dinner with you. At the table you get mashed sweet potatoes. You yell you hate sweet potatoes. You want mashed white! Yum yum, says your brother. He licks his lips. Thanks mom, these are very good. You push the bowl of mashed sweet potatoes almost off the table. You are still chilly and your mom gets you your bathrobe and puts it on too tight. Too tight! Your mom says take a deep breath. Is she talking to you? You cry and yell until the ravioli is ready and then you eat the ravioli. It’s good. You like ravioli.

As soon as your father gets home your mother says she’s going for a walk to get some milk. You want to know why your mother is crying. Why would she cry about milk?